(Editor’s note: A few years before his death in 2017, Garry Scarff apologized to Rebecca Moore on several occasions, expressing his remorse for his subterfuge in his earlier relationship with her. Rebecca accepted the sincerity of his apology, and encourages the reader to consider the article below with that apology in mind.)
In 1989, Fielding McGehee and I published The Need for a Second Look at Jonestown, a collection of essays written by those who had been involved with Peoples Temple. In this retrospective volume, people reflected on their experiences of the previous decade, as well as on their understanding of the Temple. Contributors included former members, relatives, and others who had had connections with the Temple, such as news reporters and social activists.
Shortly after the book appeared, Chris Hatcher, the psychologist hired by the city of San Francisco to counsel those affected by Jonestown, told us that one of the book’s contributors, Garry Scarff, was a fraud and that he had never been a member of Peoples Temple. Others said the same thing, and asked, “Who is Garry Scarff?”
The answer to that question remains unclear. Weblogs by Scarff have resurfaced on a number of anti-Scientology websites. On a blog dated 9 Sept 1998, he described an encounter with some Scientologists on his way to his doctor. He noted that he visited his “former workplace on L. Ron Hubbard Way,” and that some Scientology guards followed him. “Amazing, that such paranoia still reigns when you just want to take a walk. Ho-hum.”
Due caution if not paranoia, however, may be the best way to deal with the enigmatic figure who seems to drift from cult to anticult and back again. We have wanted to alert readers to the problems with “A Light at the End of the Tunnel,” by Garry Scarff, ever since we learned that the article was probably faked. The history of its publication, and the subsequent reports about its author, are both fascinating and disquieting. They hint at the hidden maneuverings of both cult and anticult factions.
Our plans for The Need for a Second Look included running an essay by someone critical of Peoples Temple. Since many of the essays were sympathetic, we thought fairness required an opposing viewpoint. Patricia Ryan, Leo Ryan’s daughter, initially agreed to write an article, but then referred us to Cynthia Kisser, the Executive Director of the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), where Ryan served on the Board of Directors. Kisser expressed interest in the project, as did the late Herbert Rosedale, who signed onto the project. Kisser also guided us to Garry Scarff, who said he had belonged to Peoples Temple. A correspondence began with Scarff, who was persuaded to write his story.
“Over ten years ago, in the summer of 1977, I fled the Peoples Temple,” he began his essay in The Need for a Second Look at Jonestown, “leaving behind my beloved father, my girlfriend and our eight month-old son, my “brother’ Mike Prokes, and the many whom I sacrificed my soul, my love, my identity and ultimately, my family to-the Rev. Jim Jones.” His essay claims that on 14 July 1977, he met with Jones along with his own father. That should have been our initial clue that his story was not credible, since Jones had permanently left California for Guyana by 17 June 1977, according to Hall (204). Scarff says my sister Annie Moore was also present at the July meeting, another impossibility since she was living in Guyana by May (Moore 1986, 173).
Scarff asserts in his essay that he arrived in the Los Angeles Temple in 1975 from an Assembly of God-owned college in Florida where he was pursuing a ministerial career. He wanted to make “Christian-oriented films,” but ended up in pornography to support himself. He says that when he left the Temple in 1977, he went to Al and Jeannie Mills, leaders of the Concerned Relatives group who had started the Human Freedom Center to help others who fled Peoples Temple.
Scarff says he founded a group called Students for Personal Freedom and Choice in 1980 in response to organizational efforts by the Unification Church occurring at the college he was attending in Portland, Oregon. His anti-Moon organizing efforts led him to Adrian and Anne Greek, founders of the Positive Action Center, an anti-Unification Church group. At the same time, he also says that he became friends with John Biermans, “an attorney and longtime member of the Unification Church.” Scarff says that in Portland he came across a description of an ex-Moonie who was also a deprogrammer: Gary Scharff, “no relation, although we are often mistaken for one another in [CAN] and are said to look identical.”
In 1984 he joined the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter-day Saints, according to the essay. “It was a decision I would later regret,” he writes. He states that he was excommunicated in 1986 for not accepting the verdict of church leaders who said that his involvement in the Temple was “a result of a pathology in my personality.” He also says that because he used naturopathic and meditative techniques to recover from his Temple experience, some within CAN suspected that he was part of a New Age cult.
A brief epilogue follows Scarff’s essay in which he states that he resigned from the national CAN, and its local affiliate the Positive Action Center. He asserts that CAN had attacked him and attempted to discredit him by, “voicing concerns over my credibility and character and labeling me a “cult spy.'”
While there is enough weird stuff in Scarff’s account to raise anyone’s suspicions, ours were allayed by the fact that he came recommended by CAN. His initial letter to us arrived with a business card marked “C.A.N./OREGON,” and which listed his credentials as “Member, National Cult Awareness Network & Former Cult Member Support Network (FOCUS).” A biographical statement, which accompanied information he prepared for the media, said that CAN published his story of life in the Temple in 1987, and that Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA), Leo Ryan’s successor in Congress, entered it into the Congressional Record that November. His resume indicated that he had a B.S. in Law Enforcement/Pre-Law, and an M.A. in Public Administration and Finance.
In the middle of book production in 1988, however, CAN repudiated Scarff. Cynthia Kisser wrote to tell us that she was withdrawing her endorsement and enthusiasm for our project. She asserted that Herbert Richardson, director of the Edwin Mellen Press, the book’s publisher, was supported by the Unification Church. Pat Ryan dropped out the same month, and Herb Rosedale said that time constraints precluded him from writing. Scarff’s anticult friends the Greeks denounced him, and in October 1988 told us personally that he was a fraud.
It was not entirely clear if the problem for CAN lay with Scarff, with Edwin Mellen Press, or with the Unification Church. Scarff wrote that he had no problem with the press as long as his criticism of Peoples Temple was not edited “in such a manner by the publisher to “downplay’ my thoughts on “destructive cults’ (which I consider the Unification Church to be)” (18 March 1988). We assured him that his criticisms would not be edited, and they were not. The essay appeared, and we were criticized by Temple survivors and others.
Eventually we wondered if we had been set up by CAN. I saw Pat Ryan in November 1992 at the Jonestown Memorial Service, and wrote her early in 1993 to ask her what she or Cynthia Kisser knew about Garry Scarff, and to raise the question of our being set up by CAN. She replied, in part:
The short answer to your question about whether we still find him credible is NO! I’m very sorry that you have some friends who think that “CAN” would knowingly promote someone who was fraudulent-particularly given my involvement in the organization. The sad truth is that Garry presented himself to one of our affiliates several years ago as someone who had been a member of the Peoples Temple, and whose son and father were killed there. He told elaborate stories about his experiences, and claimed he was going under an assumed name for safety reasons. Naively, he had many people fooled, including me (he really played me for a fool). After a while he began to embellish his stories, and his behavior was quite erratic at times. When we began to press him for proof of his experiences, he became angry and disappeared, only to surface later with outrageous stories about how we had coerced him into making up his stories in order to raise more money for CAN.
Just recently, Garry said in a sworn statement that Scientology had put him up to all of this, from the beginning. Whether or not that is true is difficult to determine, based on his past history. However, what is clear is that he took advantage of CAN and many good, kind individuals who tried to personally counsel, help and befriend him. Unfortunately, at the time you asked us for someone to write an article for your book, we still believed his story.
I’m truly sorry about your having to “eat crow,” but I’m afraid we were both fooled by a very unstable, unethical individual.
In an affidavit dated 3 May 1992, filed in the civil suit Church of Scientology International v. Gerald Armstrong, et al., Scarff says that he was a member of Scientology from 1982-1992, and for two years (1990-1992) he worked as an “operative” to defame Ford Greene, a lawyer for CAN. In that document, Scarff states that
in 1987 I was directed by SCIENTOLOGY to represent myself as a survivor of the People’s Temple immolation in Jonestown, Guyana and befriend FORD GREENE in order to perpetrate a Scientology operation on him. During Christmas 1987 FORD invited me to spend the holiday with him. When I was in his office alone during that period of time, I availed myself of his confidential legal records, legal files of his clients, a rolodex of his contacts and photographed his office.
This, undoubtedly, is the sworn statement Ryan refers to, which we uncovered researching this article. As Ryan notes, whether or not it is true is difficult to determine.
If the story of Garry Scarff ended there, it would be interesting enough. But it continues. A 1995 “Special Report” from Freedom, Scientology’s investigative news magazine, features an exposé of CAN. An article titled “Jonestown: The Big Lie” attempts to paint Pat Ryan as an exploitative anticultist, linking her to Ted Patrick, Cynthia Kisser, Margaret Singer, Louis West, and others. We think this connection is overdrawn, given Ryan’s advisory role in the group. Scarff reappears in this article, however, which claims that
Garry Lynn Scarff stated under oath that he had been used for years by the Cult Awareness Network to lie about Jonestown and the People’s Temple. Although he had never been a member of the People’s Temple, he wove an elaborate tapestry of falsehoods about his alleged involvement for audiences at CAN conventions-and for the news media.
In his words, “Eventually, my embellished story grew to the extent that I had fathered a son in San Francisco by my girlfriend who was a member of the People’s Temple and that my girlfriend had taken my son to the People’s Temple in Guyana; that Jim Jones had forced me to orally copulate his penis in front of the People’s Temple congregation in San Francisco; that I had appeared in a pornographic movie; that Jim Jones and I attended Fidel Castro’s birthday party in Cuba; that my “son,’ my son’s mother and my father were subsequently murdered during the Jonestown massacred; and many other blatant lies.”
According to Scarff, CAN members and deprogrammers, including Adrian and Anne Greek, Bob Brandyberry and Kent Burtner, “praised me for my performance, even though they knew that my stories were totally false and had actually been concocted with their advice and encouragement… The Greeks, Brandyberry, Burtner and I had a good laugh about how the story caused so many persons in the audience to cry.”
It seems impossible to know what is true in these claims and counter-claims, although it appears that Scarff worked for Scientology as well as for CAN.
The Unification Church may also have played a role in this strange tale. Scarff was concerned about possible connections between Edwin Mellen Press and the Unification Church. “I am leery of the situation,” he wrote us, “because of the Unification Church’s knowledge of my participation in CAN, my past in the field of deprogramming which included many Unification Church members, and my current cult education efforts” (18 March 1988). In another letter (5 July 1988) Scarff enclosed copies from the pages of a book by John Biermans, the Unification Church lawyer, who wrote that he had received a personal apology “from former deprogrammer and [Citizens Freedom Foundation] member, Garry L. Scarff, for dozens of instances of deprogramming and other “dirty tricks’ performed by Scarff himself and other CFF members” (Biermans 118). Scarff’s “confession letter,” dated 6 December 1985, included a photo of himself speaking at the fifth annual conference of CFF in October 1983.
According to Scarff, the CAN Board of Directors decided in the summer of 1988 that it would not allow The Need for a Second Look at Jonestown to be sold or distributed at its fall conference on the tenth anniversary of Jonestown. He wrote that he would attend CAN’s Jonestown Commemorative Dinner with San Francisco Examiner reporter Tim Reiterman-“who won’t appear unless I mutually agree to do so”-and then would officially resign from CAN (22 July 1988). His involvement with the book put him at the center of controversy with CAN, because there were many “who now question my credibility because of my “pro-Mellen, pro-Moonie’ stance” (3 August 1988).
Part of CAN’s problem with Scarff, and with us, may have been the inclusion of “Reflections on the Human Freedom Center,” an essay by Lowell Streiker who noted the similarities between the way Al and Jeannie Mills ran the HFC, and the way Jim Jones ran Peoples Temple. Scarff reported that Anne Greek called Streiker-an ordained minister, psychologist, and scholar-a “cult spy” for the Unification Church and Scientology, who was on Jones’ payroll (22 October 1988). In the same letter, he expressed shock that Eric Brazil, a reporter for the Examiner, asked him if he were working for the Moonies. Was Unification Church a part of Scarff’s credibility problem? Who knows for sure?
What does seem sure is that he was never a member of Peoples Temple, and thus as scholars and responsible individuals, we do have to “eat crow” and admit that we did not sufficiently investigate Scarff’s background. Undoubtedly the real question is why we published Scarff’s essay in the first place, knowing what we did at the time.
One reason is that we generally take people at face value: that is to say, we believe that people are sincere and acting out of integrity, and so we respond sincerely. This is a policy which generally serves us well in answering inquiries about Peoples Temple and Jonestown. A second reason is that Scarff’s essay provided a different perspective from others in the collection. Its historicity was irrelevant: it was the anticult view and that was sufficient. Moreover, there were sufficient bits and pieces of it that rang true-and have since been verified from other sources (such as a journal kept by Temple member Edith Roller, and personal interviews with Temple members)-that suggest that even if it is a composite picture of life in the Temple, it is nevertheless a factual picture, as far as it goes. The same is true for all discussions of Peoples Temple. Two individuals on the same boat trip on the Kaituma River describe the journey in starkly different terms. The infamous beating of Linda Mertle, as described in New West Magazine in 1977, came as a result of her own request for seventy-five whacks in punishment for her manipulative behavior (Hall, 123-124). In other words, there was truth to what Scarff said, even though it was partial and incomplete.
When The Need for a Second Look finally came out, Scarff sent us a check for some copies of the book we had sent him (29 July 1989). In a P.S. he noted that “the “AKA Lynn Garrett’ on the check is my theatrical name on file with the Screen Actors Guild.”
The next year he sent us an article from Premiere (February 1990), with Tom Cruise on the cover. The article described a labor action over the $5 per hour wage, without overtime, security guards were paid on the set of Dennis Quaid’s film Come See the Paradise. “After noticing that omission in the paychecks, security coordinator Garry Scarff asked a production manager for an explanation. “He said if we made an issue of it,’ says Scarff, “he would just remove us.'” The article states that Scarff filed complaints with state and federal labor departments, but that a colleague took more direct action by circulating Quaid’s contract to local TV stations. “Shortly after the details of this contract appeared in the Portland media, the guards received their overtime pay.”
A Google search on “Lynn Garrett” and “Scarff” reveals more details, as does a search on “Jonestown” and “Scarff.” The hundreds of sites listed lead into a web of charges and counter-charges, each more bizarre than the next.
One of the last letters we ever received from Garry Scarff reported that he had an application in to Gonzaga University (9 April 1990). This was in response to our announcement of a move to Milwaukee and my entrance into Marquette University. Scarff said he was considering either becoming a diocesan priest or joining the Jesuits. “Do send me details on the move to Marquette. I need a good laugh.”
John T. Biermans. The Odyssey of New Religions Today: A Case Study of the Unification Church. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1988.
John R. Hall. Gone from the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History, 2d ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 2004.
“Jonestown: The Big Lie.” Freedom 27, no. 2 (January 1995): 24-27.
Rebecca Moore. The Jonestown Letters: Correspondence of the Moore Family 1970-1985. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1986.
Rebecca Moore and Fielding M. McGehee III, eds. The Need for a Second Look at Jonestown. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1989.
(Rebecca Moore is a professor of Religious Studies at San Diego State University. She has written and published extensively on Peoples Temple and Jonestown, including her most recent book Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple (Praeger, 2009), and an extensive description on the Temple appears at the World Religions & Spirituality Project at Virginia Commonwealth University.